POWNAL -- The Pownal School District board is considering cameras mounted inside school buses to deter bullying and use as evidence, as well as cameras outside buses to identify vehicles that fail to stop for a bus.
The board included $10,000 in the current budget to purchase cameras for inside its four regular buses, although soon-to-be released technology from Gatekeeper Systems would allow surveillance outside the buses well.
"They showed some stop arm cameras where some cars were actually going on through and you can catch their license plates and work with the local police department to look into those types of situations," Principal Todd Phillips told the board Wednesday.
The idea of exterior cameras as well as interior received support from the board.
"I know in the past we have had problems with cars driving past buses," said Chairwoman Cynthia Brownell, who used to be a bus driver.
In past years the school district has dealt with significant bullying and harassment problems on its buses, which prompted the board to pay adults to ride the buses with the children about six years ago.
The camera system the district is considering does not go on sale for a couple more months, but when they do the district will have the capability to install eight cameras, instead of the current system that allows only four. With eight cameras, all four school buses may be equipped with one inside and one outside camera.
Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke said an estimate for the entire system with four cameras is around $9,000, and four additional cameras would cost another $1,000.
The camera system is tested for shock and vibrations that are routine on bus routes, it also has thermal intelligence and technology to work effectively in the dark, if for instance a field trip did not return until late. It also allows the bus driver to flag a point in the recording so it is easy to review later. Everything picked up on the cameras would be digitally recorded.
The cameras would be programed to turn on with the ignition and automatically shut off 10 minutes after the bus is turned off.
The decision made in January as the board drafted a budget for this school year was made in part to reduce a $25,750 line item to pay paraprofessionals to ride every bus in the morning and afternoon. Because some members of the board were hesitant about the idea, the board compromised and agreed to continue funding two paraprofessionals. Gudrun Hutchins said Wednesday the hope was Pownal would receive state aid to reimburse some of their pay so that a para may actually ride on every bus all year.
Phillips said he favors the combination of cameras and adults on every bus.
"I'm really in support of having paras on the bus because I do feel like the driver does need that second adult there ... I really think the combination of the two is going to be key," Phillips said. "We do have the bus drivers before they leave every day, with the paras there, they're actually giving those verbal expectations of what's expected on the bus ... a camera can't replace that."
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